Ultrasone Pro 900 Headphones - Review
Germany's Autobahn has no speed limits and the Pro 900 headphones from Germany's Ultrasone have no sound limits either! And like anything good (and German), you're going to pay. They were about $550 on Amazon last I checked (MSRP is $599). I've had a pair since early spring, but didn't crack them open until I went on vacation in July. Sure, I listen to a lot of music every day with earphones, but not much with headphones. But all that's changed since the Ultrasone Pro 900's entered my life!
The Ultrasone are large, classic headphones, though not "sealed" like you might need in a home studio – they leak enough that others can hear them when they're playing and could easily get picked up by a mic. They also look ungainly with a dainty iPod Nano on the other end. But that is how I mostly used them initially. They're a bit less sensitive than Etymotics or Shure earphones (both now busted), or the $30 replacement's from Philips I picked up at Target (when these finally break, I won't hold a wake). All of these earphones are strap-ons that fit snuggly to the ear and body of the wearer and invite you, nay beg you, to go running! Big headphones invite you to sit delicately and plan your cup of tea and ladyfinger snack carefully, lest the curly-chord strangle you.
Ultrasone has several headphone lines, including DJ and HFI (high end consumer), but the Pro series is naturally their best. Using unusual driver positioning that shoots sound indirectly towards your ear canal. Bouncing around, the sound is said to more spacious. I never felt I was in an echo chamber though, it just sounded natural and amazing most of the time like – get this – amazingly good headphones should. Ultrasone calls this design approach "S-Logic" . They even claim you'll end up listening at lower decibels, which I assume means it sounds good enough that you may resist the urge not to crank it up. I know I couldn't though. The bad boys do loud real well.
Ultrasone outfits the Pro 900 with high quality Neutrik connectors, with a " stereo connector, and even an extra cable. A 1/8" adaptor lets you plug into your iPod or Blackberry. The ear cushions (a second pair are included in the nice protective case) are as comfortable as about anything you would expect. The Velvet material is less sweat inducing than any vinyl or leather counterparts I've tried, though naturally, they'll get groaty after time and will need replacing. I wish they were better attached though. Mine occasionally fell off with only a mild amount of jimmying, although they rotated back into place easily enough. Still, for the price, I'd expect a snugger more reassuring connection.
The rest is all good news though. While I can't verify Ultrasone's 8 HZ lower limit claim, I will tell you that Nine Inch Nails never sounded lacking in their nether regions, of which they have many. Ditto the 35 kHz upper frequency which, also unverifiable, never ceased to amaze me with its extension. I ended up using the Pro 900 mostly for sound editing and mastering in my new recording room (strictly amateur I'm sad to say, with a big "no Pro Tools here" sign on the door). Their extension and dynamic range felt empowering. Unfortunately, their tonal palette, while always agreeable, wasn't the same as that of the Revels in my home theater. Mastering only with the headphones, my recordings were full of life when I burnt them to CD, but in the Revel room, seemed almost lifeless. But I wouldn't call them "hot" – exciting is the word. Is it pure? Who knows, this ain't the Stereophile side of the house. I'm just out for a good time and the Pro 900 provide that in abundance.
I have a pair of Stax headphones (made back in the 70s and still cruising for a bruising) in the same room. I can listen to my Korg D3200 digital recorder either directly off the board with the Pro 900, or feeding an Audio Research SP-14 preamp and Bryston 4B amplifier combo, via either the Stax headphones or a pair of Alon ("Nola" now) Point V speakers which are still a go-to reference for me. The Stax are more natural, clinically more resolute, and just a little bass shy (okay, make that a lot bass shy) compared to the Pro 900. The Alon Point V are very similar to both, and they're floor standing speakers. It's hard to say which is "right" but the Pro 900 would certainly be welcome as a reference in my little corner of the world.